Growing up in Port Elgin, ON, Kelly Gribbons wasn’t obsessed with computers or video games. It wasn’t until Grade 11, in fact, when Gribbons took a computer science course that she discovered her passion and made a decision to pursue an education in computer science.
“I had played a few computer games, but it didn’t hit me until Grade 11 that it was even a possibility. I was talking to my mom and telling her how I really liked problem solving and math and she suggested I take a computer science course. I really liked it,” notes the 19-year old whose parents and siblings are all engineers.
A second-year engineering systems and computing student at the University of Guelph, Gribbons recently received Allstream’s Canadian Engineering Memorial Foundation scholarship, which is awarded to the most promising female IT student at the university level.
In general, the enrollment for women in computing disciplines at the post-secondary level is significantly lower than for males. According to Statistics Canada, in 2009, there were 33,219 students enrolled in “mathematics, computer and information sciences”. Of those, 73 per cent were male and only 27 per cent were female.
Although Gribbons is still debating the kind of job she hopes to land when she graduates, she’s drawn to project management and can see herself working in health care or a related area.
“I’m interested in what technology can do for people, and how it can improve their lives.”
Gribbons is getting to sample real-world IT waters in a summer internship with Applied Geologics, a Guelph, ON-based company that develops asset and work management systems. Though she’s still in “learning mode,” Gribbons says she is excited to have the opportunity to practice what she’s learned in class.
“I really like it so far. I’ve been doing a lot of data manipulation on Excel and learning SQL and some other programs.”
That enthusiasm may wane when Gribbons joins the workforce in a couple of years, according to experts at the Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology.
CWST says outdated assumptions about women as leaders in science, engineering and technology continue to persist and that “men continue to dominate senior leadership positions within these areas, despite the equal ability of their female colleagues.”
Though she’s aware there are fewer women than men in IT roles, Gribbons says she’s been playing “boy’s” games for a while, and that she is not at all intimated.
“I’m a member of the varsity hockey team on campus and I’ve also worked at a lot of hockey camps, and girl-specific camps.”
Her tips for future employers to make the workplace a more level playing field for both women and men?
Talk the talk. Email and other forms of electronic communication are tools that should never replace a face-to-face conversation.
“Even though there are all these great technologies, I feel it’s important to communicate directly with colleagues.”
Down time. Millennials and Generation Z employees are looking for more work/life balance so flex hours will be a standard demand for this group.